Here's a lesson I learned today that I'll share with you. Today, is the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots and the subsequent destruction of the "Black Wall Street."

June 1st: Anniversary Of The Tulsa Race Riots

I had literally never heard of this before. In and of itself, that's not a big deal. I'm not an American. The entirety of my US history knowledge comes from pop culture, wikipedia and that one college course I took my junior year.

My not knowing doesn't really mean much, is what I'm saying.

But what I found so fascinating/disheartening, is that apparently, in all the years I spent glued to various screens, I've never heard of it, almost by design:

The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale, racially motivated conflict on May 31 and June 1, 1921, in which whites attacked the black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It resulted in the Greenwood District, also known as 'the Black Wall Street' and the wealthiest black community in the United States, being burned to the ground.

The events of the riot were long omitted from local and state histories. "The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place."

Reading about it now is enlightening, but also terrifying. The wikipedia entry is long, and I haven't made it all the way through yet, but apparently this all began because a young black man was accused of assaulting a white female coworker, and the white community of the time wanted him lynched. The black community wasn't having it.

After an initial exchange of fire on May 30th, the Greenwood community was bombed on June 1st. They BOMBED a residential town "to provide reconnaissance and protect whites against a "Negro uprising."

BOMBED.

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1996, was an attempt to properly document the riots, the damage caused and to pay restitution to those affected.

Reading about this has been eye-opening for several reasons.

  • Greenwood was home to many successful black people, many of them doctors and lawyers who were multi-millionaires. Greenwood was flourishing, and that's why it was called the Black Wall Street. Because of a dispute over one man's alleged actions, an entire community was decimated.
  • You know those second amendment rights you love so much? Apparently they don't apply if you're black. Pick up guns to defend your homes and livelihoods and they will drop leftover WWII bombs on you.
  • It makes the bootstraps theory of success that much more sickening. Here was a community that did work hard to do well. They did so well that they were home to several multi-millionaries. People who mad their money not through illegal activity, but "respectable professions" like medicine and law, and all their hard work, the wealth they had worked so hard to accumulate, was burned to the ground.
  • Not only was this community almost literally bombed out of existence, in the aftermath, there was a concerted effort to price black people out of their homes through establishing new building codes, that would have made rebuilding prohibitive.
  • After all that, as mentioned at the top of this piece, the history of what happened was omitted from our knowledge. One of the worst race riots ever to happen in the US, simply vanished from our collective memories.

It's really scary when you think about it. I'm 0nly 50% sure this comparison is appropriate, (feel free to check me if it's offensive) but they do say that the last step in a genocide is to deny it ever happened.

What strikes me most about the events of this story is that is shows one of the myriad of ways in which the law was used to actively disempower not just black people, but pretty much every non-white group that has ever set foot on US soil. This video gives a great rundown of some of the ways that racism is inherent in the operations of the US judicial system through the specific laws enacted to persecute PoC.

They say history is written by the victors. I think that couldn't be more true. I have complicated feelings about how this relates back to the way black people especially are portrayed as not being able to achieve anything more than running guns or drugs, while ignoring the accomplishments that prove otherwise, but that will have to be tackled another day.

I wonder what else I don't know about?

[Image h/t: All Hail The Kween]